Saturday, 18 November 2017

Western States Endurance Run 2017

Very soon after completing my first marathon I became fascinated in ultra distance running and what the human body was capable of. This lead me to read every book and article I could find on the subject. After reading one particular book my mind was made up. I would one day take part in the Western States Endurance Run. Fast forward eight years and I'm stood on the start line. The clock reads 00:17:05, I turn to my crew member and friend Chris Benjamin and say "That clock has been ticking for eight years and now I'm finally ready to start". I stare up the mountainside and  I feel rather emotional, It has been one long journey, 55 ultra marathons, thousands of miles of training, qualifiers, entries, hours spent watching the draw, disappointment and elation all about to come to fruition now. Would it live up to the hype? Would I go sub 24? Would my feet hold up? Is it the greatest race on the planet? Would I even finish?? All these questions were about to be answered in the next 24 hours.

I trained double hard for this one post Arc of Attrition. I emptied my diary and decided to once again put my training in the hands of James Elson. He helped me through Spartathlon and although I could do this on my own I do enjoy the structure of having a coach I find it very motivating. Plus I was determined to leave no stone unturned, It really had to be this way, No excuses. Training went exactly to plan, long weekends in the lakes, days on the south downs, 50k races, fast marathons, hill reps, I even spent one evening a week doing single leg weighted bouncing lunges just to make sure my quads were conditioned. The only part of training that went awry was my physical job getting in the way of training in the last three weeks, what can you do, works work!.

I had changed my diet too, starting the day after the Arc in fact. I gave up refined sugar and almost all processed food. Such a simple concept but sugar is in everything! However I stuck to it and felt great with it. It's a real enjoyable way to eat, you get lean and gone are the sugar highs and lows. As you get older your body is like a vintage car, you need to put the premium petrol in and the decent oil or it'll run like bag of shit. I experimented with sugar free running too but that didn't work. It's ok to a point but I just kept crashing and burning. So I ditched that idea.

I spent a lot of time toying with kit. The Salomon 1 litre pack was going to be my pack of choice but I kept overheating whilst wearing it so I changed pretty late to 2 x UD handhelds and a waist pouch. With all the support at Western I certainly didn't need to carry more. I love my Hokas but they are pretty unstable. With such a mountainous prospect I decided I need to be nearer the ground. Inov-8 Trail Talons turned out to be the shoe of choice, they are spot on, I'd go as far to say they are the perfect shoe for me.

Lake  Tahoe
Lake Tahoe
Everything set it was time to fly. I arrived a few days early to try and acclimatize to the altitude. Lake Tahoe is at around 5000ft above sea level so that would be the perfect base for me. Tahoe City itself is gorgeous, it sits right on the lake which in turn is enormous. The lake is completely surrounded by mountains and there is only one outlet which measures about 20 metres across. You can stand on the shore and the views are breathtaking, a great place to gather pre race thoughts. Squaw valley resort is about six miles away and is approached through pine lined roads. It is a real rugged landscape and the expanse of it all hits you round every turn. The resort was the host of the 1960 Olympics and the torch still burns there. As you wander through the massive carpark to the start area you expect everyone to be involved in or at least know about the race. This isn't the case and in fact half the people milling around Squaw Valley have no clue. The startline is tucked right in the corner at the foot of the first climb.

Heading up out of Squaw Valley
The start line arch
Lots of snow near the top
The Escarpment takes you to over 8000ft so it was a good introduction to the mountain to take the organised hike to the top. The hike is leisurely and its nice to chat to a few other competitors however it was quite alarming to reach the snow so soon. Some of the climb is steep and getting a footing was tough we were certainly going to have our work cut out on race day. The view from the top was worthy of the hike and with the help of a local we were able to visually plot the next 30 mile.
The day before the start was registration, it was great to see everything set up and ready to go. The start area is a relatively small courtyard with the gantry in the corner. Registration was in an upstairs room in the building behind. After a ten minute queue the process began. All very regimented as we were shepherded from table to table unable to proceed without having fulfilled your task at the current table. Cards with your name and number on, wristbands, photos, questions, freebies all before being ushered straight out the exit. No faff. In and out. The most important thing I walked out with was the sacred wristband, loose it and no race. We all headed over to the briefing room next for the race talk. Same old stuff about course conditions etc. One stand out point was a story about Gordy. The WSER committee had somehow managed to miss count the waitlist entrants and had told one runner he had a place. He flew in from Vermont only to be told they had miss counted and there was no place. That guy happened to be John Fegyveresi from Barkley fame. Now John was in tears at the prospect of having to go home. Then up steps Gordy and says he's had rough week and feels he won't get too far so he will stand back and let John take his place. All to massive cheers. You couldn't make this shit up. Hmm well maybe you could? The cynic in me has my reservations about this story but it sure makes a great headline. To finish the brief they got all the elites up the front, UTMB winners, Laverado winners, WS winners. The thing that struck me is how young they all looked especially Jim Walmsley, a mere slip of a lad. Really made me feel old!
Gordy the legend
Me and David
I slept well that night and after my 2:30am alarm call we were soon heading for the start. We were promised breakfast which turned out to be coffee and muffins. I couldn't face a muffin at 4am so I settled for a Cliff Bar, I had to eat something. I collected my number and was ready. Unlike UK races where people mill on the start line for ages the WS start line was empty with 20 mins to go. I stood at the start line and just soaked it up. I chatted with Peter Wright and David Harvey two fellow Brits. We wished each other luck as the clock ticked away. Finally everyone surged forward as the final few seconds disappeared, the gun exploded and we were off. My plan for the first mountain was mainly to fast hike and keep up with some of the leading ladies that way I wouldn't drop too far back and get caught on the single track further along. I really needed to get to Robinson Flat in 6 hours 30 to stay on my 24 hour plan.

I ran across the line and within 300mtrs I was walking, the sloped tracks are fairly steep but runnable, just not today. Not a wise move for all but the elite. As we rose up the twisting tracks the first shards of light could be seen in the distant clear sky. I kept stopping to look and take it all in, the higher we rose the more entrancing the view became. There was a cloud inversion in the valley below. I was in heaven and wasted several minutes stopping to look. Its not everyday you get these views, I made the most of them. After a couple of miles of long smooth switchbacks we hit snow. Very lumpy and still relatively steep we trudged ever upwards. About a mile from the top of the escarpment is a very steep section of trail, real hands on knees stuff as I was already blowing hard from the thinning air. Sixty five minutes had passed by the time I reached the top of the escarpment. Four miles in 8750ft up, incidentally that is higher than any point on the UTMB course. I took one last look at the valley behind and then the wilderness ahead before pressing forward to the cheers of the crowd spectating from the top.

Half way up the first climb
Early in the race
The trail descended slightly as we ran all the time trying to find my groove. Before long we hit a patch of snow, little did I realize this would be the norm for the next six miles. We seemed to be maintaining altitude and the going was tough, real technical stuff. The snow patches were pretty constant in frequency but they could go up, down, level or indeed 45 degree cambers. It was so awkward to keep a footing, runners were sliding off the snow banks then having to climb back to the marked path. There were fallers everywhere. The down sections of snow had to be slid down either ski style or my preferred method of crouching with one leg forward and sliding down. In between the snow patches there was no defined trail, we were running on branches and pine needles following the markers set by Tim Twietmeyer on a route he had deemed to be best. It was rough and more like an assault course than a trail run on these early miles. Gradually we left the snow behind but the snow melt had turned the trail into mushy mud, over the ankle mushy mud. This was far more British and I took quite a few places as I bowled through it headlong. I ran into Lyon Ridge aid station and
Concentrating soon after my fall
demolished a can of coke, it was a relief to have a break, although we'd only been going for ten miles it felt like a whole lot more. The run high on the ridge was now drying out but extremely technical, my brain was doing overtime as my eyes flicked from rock to rock. It was so hard to concentrate, the views were amazing and my mind kept wandering as I tried to take it all in. I was running at what seemed a respectable speed keeping my place in the long line of competitors. We weren't toe to heel but if you stopped plenty would barrel past. Then disaster struck, I caught my toe on a boulder and before I could even out stretch my arms I smashed into the surrounding rocks. My elbow, knee and hip took the biggest hit. I lay on the floor contorted in pain, a group of four runners came hammering through one yelling a cursory "ok?" before disappearing around the corner. Who could blame them? They were not jeopardising their WS dreams for a downed runner in the wilderness. As I composed myself the pain seared through my body, I stood to take stock of the situation, I was in so much pain as I tried to move forward, my knee felt alien and extremely unstable. I hopped forward, it was mile twelve this is a possible race ender. My hops turned into a limp, too much had passed to get me this far, years of effort. I made a decision right there to overcome it. The pain was only in my head, I could still move, I kept telling myself to reposition the pain else where in my brain. It may sound like horse shite but it's something that I felt I did. I jogged into Red Star AS and took a glance at my elbow it was scuffed up and there was a fair bit of blood on my arm sleeve but adrenaline was firmly kicking in. I figured the sleeve would help contain things and keep it clean. Time to crack on.

Duncan canyon
The views were stunning high on the ridge but since the fall all my concentration was going on foot placement. We were still at fairly high altitude and would remain so until Robinson Flat, I think we averaged 7500ft through this section. I was breathing heavy due to the exertion but the thin air just wasn't feeding my muscles, it felt incredibly draining. Things were starting to hot up as I descended into Duncan Canyon, my knee and elbow were still zinging with pain but I was holding it together however my speed was suffering as I knew another fall wouldn't be good. I reached the creek and there was a rope strung across, the water was thigh deep and extremely cold. The numbing feeling on my legs was heaven. I got my balance in the middle and dunked my head under before wading through. What a relief, a real system reset. The climb out the other side of Duncan was long and sustained and an ideal opportunity to rest. The altitude had zapped my muscles, my body was screaming for energy. The GU and Cliff gels were maintaining my 200 cal an hour but I was tired surprisingly so for such an early stage in the race. I could hear the buzz of Robinson Flat AS up ahead and ran hard to it. I so wanted to show my crew I was solid. Seven hours had passed for the first 30 mile, I was 30 minutes down on my absolute slowest predicted time so in my eyes I was a good hour down. It was good to see my crew, Jim and Chris. Jim is a real old school runner, he doesn't enter races he just puts his shorts and trainers on and runs. He knows the trail like the back of his hand, every mile of it. Chris has run Badwater, Spartathlon and a whole host of other 100 milers, he is a real experienced guy. I couldn't have asked for a better team to back me up. I picked up my drop bag and changed my shoes and socks. The waterproof socks I had worn for the first 30 had done their job and kept my feet from getting macerated. I drank more coke, restocked on gels and told the guys I would be another 7 hours to Foresthill at 62 mile.

I walked out of Robinson and up the wide dusty road eating a handful of melon. It was really hot now and we were easily in the 90 degree range. I had my hat adapted by my mum pre-race she stitched elasticated pockets to each side of my cap and I would fill these with ice. The ice would then slowly melt and trickle cold water over me. Lovely. I had opted for total skin coverage using my arm sleeves all day. Also the hours spent in the sauna acclimatizing before the race helped loads. All in all I was dealing with the heat really well. As the road reached a crest and I finished eating I started running again for what turned out to be a very runnable bit of trail. Millers Defeat AS soon appeared and I was advised to do as much running as I could in the next 10 mile because after that I'd have 12 mile of hell! I stuffed my hat full of ice, took the advice and ran on. The next section was undulating through thick forest and very runnable, I really enjoyed this part of the run and was leap frogging with several other runners. It worked very well to keep each other going. The trail is extremely dusty almost sandy in places very apt as I passed through Dusty corners AS. I was shuffling a bit which isn't ideal on these rough trails. With that I stubbed my toe square on a rather large rock. The pain shot through me like electricity. Fuck!!! That hurt. I knew straight away by the searing pain that I'd either ripped a nail off or broke a toe. Either way not a lot I could do about it. I carried on to Last Chance AS and had a system check, I was dog tired but still eating, my elbow had stopped bleeding and my knee was sore but if I kept it square to my foot running was perfectly manageable. Oh and my toe was just a stubbed toe.
The sort of view you can expect
The descent into Deadwood Canyon was steep and lengthy, I dropped about 2000ft to the base, the temperature at the bottom was off the scale. I was feeling ok though, yes it was hot but it wasn't bothering me too much. My legs were really tight and I couldn't face the climb down to the creek but Jim had told me that a bit further up the other side there was a cold stream. He was dead right and I dunked my hat and arm sleeves, it was ice cold and so refreshing. I knew the climb ahead was to be the hardest of the day and definitely the hottest. The sun was beating on our side of the mountain, estimates on the day were around 110 in that canyon. The climb out of the canyon was the most physically demanding part of the course, it just went on and on, steep switchback after steep switchback each one sapping more energy. I was being passed easily on this climb and climbing is one of my strengths. I was tired and regularly stopping with hands on knees to catch my breath. The climb eventually ended and I walked straight into Devils Thumb AS. I was wobbly, there was runners crashed out everywhere. I thought it best to get my shit together and keep moving forward even if it was a walk. There is a short flattish section after the aid station to start running again before another massive 2500ft descent down to Eldorado Creek. I shuffled down the descent conscious that my water was ebbing away fast. I had two 500ml bottles that had been plenty so far but they were not going to last me up the other side of the canyon. Luckily enough there is a aid station right on the creek and I was able to restock and have a sponge down before undertaking the next climb to Michigan bluff. As I climbed the up the other side I worked out I was over halfway, 50 miles in 11 and a half hours. I had a further 2 and a half hours to meet my 14 hour target for Foresthill. The near 2000ft climb to Michigan Bluff was certainly easier than the last with long shallow switchbacks and much more shade. The AS come as a welcome sight knowing the worst of the course was done. The trail from Michigan Bluff to Foresthill was rugged and pretty slow going and I was tired from all the course had thrown at me, I didn't feel much like a runner at this point. My thoughts started to wander to the 24 hour target. I was calculating what needed to be done in the last 38 mile to go sub 24. The first thoughts of doubt entered my mind. I was physically in ok shape, my nutrition had remained pretty good, my feet were good and mathematically it was on. There was one glaring problem though, I was shattered! I felt bereft of the ability to run. It took a lot out of me just to get to Foresthill. I hiked up the hill with another runner who had met his pacer. The pacer was explaining how he had been in this exact position twice before and both times had failed to go sub 24. Great! As I turned the corner my pacers were walking towards me and conversation soon turned to the 24 hour target. Jim had done all the maths and was explaining not to worry but I was worried.

Foresthill with Jim
Foresthill was buzzing and it was buzzing with people. Thousands I'd say. I'd arrived in about 14 hours 10 and took a further 20 mins to change socks and eat. Food was becoming a real struggle to get down and I felt quite nauseous. I ate some yoghurt and a few swigs of tailwind but struggled with anything else. I even ran back into the AS just to make sure there wasn't anything that I'd find appetizing, there wasn't. I walked with Jim out of town, he was keen to get running and rightly so, It had been a long day for the guys. On paper the next section is extremely runnable and I was trying my best. My legs however had other ideas, the intention was there but I was just unable to get my legs turning over properly. It was like running in slow motion, a very peculiar sensation. I felt like I was running but Jim was walking and I could tell he was getting frustrated with me. He kept asking why I couldn't run, I didn't have the answers.
OMG I'm tired!
We arrived at Fords Bar AS and I could feel a massive blister on my toe. I had to get it sorted, Jim protested but it was no good, it needed sorting. It was stinging like murder, I peeled my sock off to find the side of my big toe missing its skin. The blister had burst and the skin had peeled back. The AS captain wrapped my toe in tape and we were good to go. Darkness had firmly set in and the trail was featureless, soft and dusty under foot, undulating and overhanging vegetation. Waves of runners were passing me now all of them chasing the silver buckle. Bucklemania was in full flow, some would make it some wouldn't. I wasn't, in fact I was dropping further back on my 24hour dream. I felt awful for Jim, everything he'd done for me and I couldn't muster a run. We hiked down to Rucky Chucky river crossing where we was due to change pacers. Jim ran ahead to brief Chris, I can only imagine it wasn't a positive conversation.

We were helped into our life jackets and given a glow in the dark neck band. I was pretty shaky and had to be helped into the boat. The oarsman soon had us across and I was helped out the other side. We took our time at the farside AS. I changed my shoes and socks, got loaded with gels and after some soup we hiked up the long ascent away from the river. It was about 2 miles straight up and into another AS. We pressed on and Chris asked if I wanted to run, I explained I was running! This was rubbish, I was rubbish. Chris had flown all the way in from Kansas for this and I couldn't perform. I was doing the motions but was just not moving at any pace.

Much of the next few hours rolled into one. Steady plodding on dusty trails with just enough roots and rocks to keep us on our toes. We both kept tripping over and over again. It became quite comical. Chris kept running way ahead and disappear into the distance then wait for me to catch up. We had a few proper runs but the damage was done. I eyes were spinning with tiredness, the caffeine in the gels wasn't quite cutting it. These are supposed to be the easy miles of the WS course but they are far from flat with hills a plenty. In the distance I could make out the flashing lights of a police car and I figured we were coming up to Highway 49. Daylight was breaking and the 24 hour mark drew ever closer. The police stopped a solitary car as I was given priority over it. We crossed the road and ran through the grassy meadow leading us all the way to Pointed Rocks AS. I entered at exactly 5am and 24 hours had elapsed, I still had 6 miles to go. I felt pretty flat and was busy making excuses to myself in my mind. I had a drop bag here which contained my GB flag but I told the AS staff I didn't need the bag. Chris took a look and saw the flag, he insisted I take it with me. Whatever the finish time I'd earned the right to carry the flag over the line. I jogged down the final descent into the canyon and onto the famous No Hands Bridge. I stood there for a minute and drank a coke, just savouring where I was and the superb runners that had passed this very point. Chris was urging me on though, 3 miles to go. We climbed the final ascent to Robie Point which is a real arse kicker just to finish you off.

Finishing straight
It's done
I left the trail for the final time and joined the tarmac. Jim was there to meet us and we all wandered onwards towards the stadium. I would usually feel an urge to race anyone to the finish line but I was done in and couldn't handle a sprint finish so I timed my final run so that the track would be clear. I entered the track with my flag round my shoulders, it was a very surreal moment. A moment I'd dreamt about for a long time. I jogged round the track as the announcer read my pre written running resume. I thought I would cry, I have at other finishes but I just felt relief, relief it was done. I crossed the line in 25:50 with the GB flag held aloft. My Western States adventure was over. I stood on the line while Tim Tweitmeyer hung the medal round my neck, the guys run over to congratulate me. I just wanted to lie down. I felt faint post race and within minutes my knee started swelling. I went to the medical tent and crashed out but was kicked out pretty soon for not being ill enough. I popped to Jims for a shower before returning for the awards ceremony. My knee had swollen solid and I had to start my walk to the front several minutes before my name was called otherwise I would have been late. I took my buckle, shook everyone's hand and left the awards tent.
Placer High school
Physically I ended up coming out quite well. Although I ended up in the emergency room just to check I was ok to fly home. My leg was swollen massively and I needed to check for DVT. I got the all clear.  On arriving home I got checked out by my physio and it looks like I crushed my collateral ligament, so loads of swelling but no real damage.

Jim and Chris
Stop swelling!
Mentally I needed to work things through. I needed there to be no excuses. Other wise there would be the dreaded 'what if' demons. Make sure every aspect was covered then what will be will be and I believe I did that. The race was certainly harder than I expected and the early miles and altitude chewed me up and spat me out. I struggled a bit with the terrain too, I may be a trail runner but this was mountain trail running. Everyone tells you its a runners race which it is but you have to be very skilled with rough rocky terrain. At the end of the day I prepared and trained as hard as I could but it was not my day to go sub 24, I did everything possible and came up short. I can't be disappointed with that.

Would I do it again? Now there's the million dollar question. For so long I've dreamed of this race, I assumed it would be the holy grail of trail running. In many ways it is, just not my holy grail. I hyped it so much in my mind that it could only ever fall short of my expectations. Yes I enjoyed it and yes It is a running spectacle but its not in my mind the greatest race on the planet. It has the greatest history, the most hype, is incredibly beautiful in places and is bloody hard to get into but that doesn't bring greatness. People will forever chase a place in the Western States Endurance Run and rightly so, it's an experience not to be missed. Part of me wants to walk away from it but me being me will keep putting entries in and I'll make a decision if I'm ever lucky enough to be drawn again.
The buckle

Saturday, 23 September 2017

London to Brighton 2017

The sun rises over Blackheath
Back in 2010 I ran my first "proper" ultra and by proper I mean 50+ miles. I had a tough outing, I had been desperate to crack 10 hours. It wasn't to be and I came in around 11 hours having covered 56 miles. It really ignited the ultra running flame in me, I'll never forget the feeling of elation having finished on the seafront only to promptly seize up and be unable to walk. It mattered little as I ate an ice cream totally content if temporarily disabled. Fast forward to 2017 and Sussex Trail Events decided to resurrect this marvellous race. How could I not enter? L2B 2017 was on.

 It's been a tough year and I was really struggling to recover from the Lakeland 100. To make recovery that much harder I threw this in to the mix just five weeks later. So rather than train for this I sort of recovered into it. Come race day I felt as good as could have been expected but I was determined to crack 10 hours. The course also measured 4 miles longer some how, so 60 miles it was. As an extra incentive a sub 10hr t-shirt was on offer. Well that's like a red rag to a bull for me!
We are off
(photo by Jon Lavis)

We left Blackheath at 6:15, it would have been 6 but one of the runners turned up 6 so we waited for him. Aren't we nice. We headed off down towards Ladywell and I started chatting with a guy I'd previously run the Tanners with a few years back. Good company and he runs at my pace so the time passed easily as we worked our way through the London streets chatting away. There were two other runners ahead but I wasn't bothered, I had a plan and was determined to stick to it. My plan was simple, run each 10 mile section in 1hr 30, allowing for a bit of drop off  and minimal stops would get me in under 10 hours. As much as I was enjoying my company, running with someone else isn't a good strategy when running to a plan. I had carried a bottle of tailwind in addition to my water bottles for the first leg . My idea was to drink the tailwind in the first 10 miles meaning I could run straight through cp1 and still have all my water for the next leg. I did just this and left the cp alone and ready to run my own race.

Running into CP1
(photo by Jon Lavis)
After Cp1 at Keston you leave London behind and the countryside starts. I was bang on time wise and running well. Just after Biggin hill I approached the two leaders. Bit of a dilemma though, I didn't want to push for the lead so early, I also didn't want to run with them or even run deliberately slower. As I pondered what to do the decision was taken out my hands as we hit a big hill and they both immediately started walking. I felt strong so continued to trot up the hill. I exchanged the lead for the next couple of miles but never pushing outside of my game plan. Around mile 18 I ran a long hill and managed to edge ahead, as I sprinted down the other side I  missed a turn. There is nothing so gutting as having to back track up a hill you just ran down. I caught the other guy back up and we entered cp2 together. Again I was in and out only having to fill my bottles. I ran out at pace and the other guy decided to stop for a while.

So this was it, I'm leading, 40 miles to go. Stick to the plan and keep at those 8 minute miles. The miles ticked by nicely and I was enjoying some lovely trails. I have been lacking energy during my last couple of races so I upped my calorie intake and decided to eat a gel every 45 mins with the occasional bottle of tailwind. This was working just fine and running was coming easy. I ran through 30 miles bang on schedule. I passed through miles of glorious countryside and London was a distant memory. I had no energy dips so that meant no walking. Luckily I was following a GPS and not map reading, it's quite a fiddly route and map reading would have slowed me down massively. The route is very intricate with some real under used pathways. On more than one occasion I was battering through stinging nettles but there was little time for loitering as I was constantly conscious someone could be right behind me.

It's Done
This was a solid performance and I ran into the 50 mile CP feeling great and a smidge under 8 hours. It was good to see some friendly faces and stop for a brief chat. I ran towards Black cap with some gusto knowing I would be walking up the hill. There was a route change coming up and I turned right as I should. I ran too far though and came out the other side of the farm onto the road. The run to get back on track seemed to take forever and I really had to push hard up the downs. My legs were screaming at the top but knew this is when I had to push hard so immediately after cresting the top I started running across the other side. I was having a slight wobble at this point but I battled it and ran all the way to Falmer. The weather had closed in now, it was raining and really rather shitty. I cobbled together a run/walk up Falmer rd and stopped at the end to have a look back. I couldn't see anyone behind but felt determined to run to the end. Once I'd crossed the racecourse I was on the final descent and still running strong. I crossed the main road and found the underpass which led me to the finish. It felt good approaching the finish flag even though the weather was horrendous. I'd finished in 9hrs 37 and 1st place.
Yay I got a black T-shirt

It was so pleasing to run such a perfect race. I had a plan and stuck to it, my nutrition was spot on, I got the time I wanted and the black t-shirt all on such an iconic route. When everything goes so well there is nothing left to prove to yourself on a course so that'll be the last London to Brighton I run. Great course, Great organisation, Great result.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Foot Problems?

My foot post Northern Traverse
I have learnt many things over my years of running and I am a firm believer that the best learnings come from experience rather than reading someone else's experience. However from my first 100 miler I have suffered with foot issues which have resulted in many a ruined race. I have learned so much that it is time I shared my thoughts on the subject. These are only my views on it and what works for me. I'm sure many will disagree but if you've worked out the answer for your self then read my thoughts and disregard at will.

Blisters and foot maceration can really be a race ender. I ran the Northern Traverse in 2016 and ran for 150 miles with ok feet. The skies opened and my feet got soaked and over the next 40 miles I developed the worst maceration I have ever had leaving me barely able to put one foot in front of the other. The pain is often described as like walking on broken glass and I concur. It is also often confused with blisters. Fact is maceration is nothing to do with blistering, they are totally different. How often do you raise the subject of maceration to someone before they say "Little bit of Vaseline, never had a blister". Doh!

A blood blister
Right I'm no medic so don't hold me to this but a blister on your foot is caused by heat resulting from friction. That friction could come from a number of things like your shoe rubbing your foot or toes rubbing together or even some foreign object in your shoe rubbing your foot. This causes the skin to separate and a bubble of liquid to appear which is sore and when it bursts is really sore.  Now maceration is caused by your foot coming in to contact with moisture for a prolonged period of time which in turn causes the actually make up of the skin to break down. Your foot resembles a giant wrinkly prune.  This causes extreme pain and sensitivity. I'll keep it that simple as that because all I'm trying to say is they are very different. Out of the two give me a blister any day. A blister can be tolerated and dealt with as the problem arises whereas maceration needs to be prevented or you will gradually enter a whole world of pain.

These are nice to run on.
I'll start with blisters because this is pretty simple. This info is really based around you having a dry race. You can use all the lotions and potions you wish which will indeed help with Anti-friction but you have to reduce the friction first. Whatever you put on your feet will rub off or disappear in to your sock in a few hours anyway. So firstly I use nothing on my feet for blister prevention maybe a bit of powder but that has another purpose that I'll come onto in a bit. So just nice clean feet and trimmed toenails. It wouldn't hurt to give them a wipe especially between your toes before putting your socks on. As for socks the best quality wicking socks you can afford I personally use Bridgedale that are specific to trail running they are relatively thick with some padding in high rub areas. They also come with a three year guarantee which I have successfully claimed on. Don't be fooled by thickness thinking your feet will be too hot. I've used thick socks in extreme heat and it hasn't been an issue. The thickness also helps with the wicking. The better quality socks have real attention to detail on the seams too again reducing friction. Ok they are £15 a pair but this is important. Also keep in mind that high quality sock manufacturers will recommend you don't put anything on your feet because it will affect the performance of the sock. Next is shoes, your shoes should fit ever so slightly on the large size so plus a half shoe size.  I do this because during a race your feet will spread and swell and fill that shoe very quickly. If you have narrow feet get a narrow fitting shoe or vice versa don't buy on brand alone. Use your laces too for finer adjustments to get that perfect fit. Obviously you are going to get any rubbish out your shoes as and when it occurs but if you are going over 50 miles a sock change is good idea. Pull up a chair, wipe your feet clean and lightly powder them, fresh socks and off you go. Finally consider wearing gaiters to keep any bits from going in your shoes. Cleanliness is everything. This is all I do and it works better than any thing else I've tried.

Maceration drying out and a Verucca
If you do get a blister you have options which are either leave it or pop it. If its small and the race isn't too long I tend to leave it which is ok until it bursts then its going to sting like mad but you'll get through. If it bursts or you have to pop it and its on a toe just wrap it in kinesio tape and crack on. Worry about getting the tape off later. In a long race you have time to pop, drain and tape blisters. The time taken will soon be made up, so take the time and deal with it. The worst place to get a blister is on the sole of your foot because it is almost impossible to tape but there is an answer. It really is a last resort and is not what the product is for but it works. Pop and drain the blister, smother the area in tincture of benzoin for added stickiness then whack a compeed over the blister. This is a real last resort but will get you to the end of your race the only problem is getting the damn thing off after. I had this done to me at Spartathlon and it got me to the end but it took me a week to get the thing off, every time I pulled it, it just ripped the skin underneath.

Trying to remove compeed
post Spartathlon
Now some of the previous info is transferable for maceration but you have to make a judgment call on race day. I estimate my feet can hold out in wet conditions for about 8 hours, much beyond that and they are going to really deteriorate. So if my feet are going to be wet for a prolonged period I am going to be thinking about maceration rather than blisters as my main problem. I'm talking a wet course because of a storm, heavy rain, stream crossings and one of the most important but most overlooked wet grass on a dewy morning. Firstly let me say and you'll know this if you are a sufferer, none of the creams work. I have tried everything on the market and the only product that came close was Hydropel but they don't make it anymore. Anyway this is my routine now. I make my decision on race morning and firstly I get a good foot powder like two toms and smother my feet especially the soles. Really get it on there. Then I wear Injinji liner socks. The lighter the better. Then I wear the lightest waterproof sock I can find. My personal choice is Seal skinz because they are always on sale and I can get a really good pair for about £15. Then just wear your normal shoes and gaiters, yes they will be snug but just adjust your laces. I know you will think your feet will get too hot and the sweat will be worse still. Fact is this is part of your call on race morning. Yes it does give you warm feet but this will be counteracted by the moisture you come into contact with. I proved this at Western states where it was extremely wet under foot for 20 miles but near 100 degrees. I wore waterproof socks for the 20 then changed into normal for the rest of the race. Worked perfect and no feet problems. Now if your feet are going to be wet all day you need to change. So at half way get your shoes and socks off straight away, have a towel in your drop bag, clean and dry your feet and leave them to air for a few minutes while you eat etc. Now just start again, powder, fresh liners, fresh seal skinz, fresh shoes. Off you go. I did this routine at the Lakeland 100 on a sodden course, my feet were in contact with water for 29 hours and I had no issues at all. Baring in mind using my old routine it may well have ended my race but instead I ran into Coniston with sore quads not sore feet. The only thing you really have to watch is water getting in the top of the sock which is possible to avoid if you are careful but if you are wading through rivers up to your thighs and you are susceptible to maceration you are fucked.
Maceration left

The thing with maceration is once you've got it, it is too late! It is all about prevention. If you are multi daying at say Dragons back you have chance to repair your feet with fresh air and time the only cure for maceration. Just let them air for as long as possible each evening and use the techniques above and everything will be just fine.

Maceration Right
Right as I've said this works for me and a thousand other runners will disagree well that's cool and I'm so glad you've found your answer. This is mine.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Arc of Attrition 2017

After Sparta I decided I needed to hit the trails again, 6 months of road running had took its toll. My plan for 2017 is to do 4 x 100s and all of them are to be (1) Trail (2) Difficult and (3) Hilly. I might switch it a bit and try for a 100 mile pb later in the year but I'll see how it goes. I had received an invite off the Spine waitlist but I wasn't feeling it. I really like to think I could run a whole event and the Spine I most definitely could not. I've been aware of the Arc for a while and was on the waitlist in 2016 but it certainly ticked my boxes for 2017.  Trail, yes, Difficult, definitely, Hilly,  17000ft of hilly. That was it, The Arc of Attrition 2017, I was in.
Training went well during the build up. I was feeling good, maybe a tad over weight, well half a stone of Christmas cheer still hanging in there. Then with exactly a week to go till kick off I developed a chesty cough. It left me unable to run, I took the time and rested up instead. Come race morning I felt loads better.
Just  before the off
Registration was in Porthtowan at the finish line. After my kit check I spent the time chatting with old friends and before I knew it the briefing was upon us. We headed to the buses straight after the brief which were to ship us all to the start. I sat at the back of the fun bus with Richard Stillion, the hour journey was soon done and we pulled into Coverack. I was raring to go and really looking forward to the journey ahead plus it was bloody freezing. I began to worry I was underdressed, I had three tops on and a balaclava maybe it was the nerves.
We were off, I stayed near the front as Richard had said the trail narrows up very quickly for several miles. I had no real game plan just to enjoy it. I do however like to get some early miles racked up without too much pissing about. The lead group pulled ahead within the first mile, there was maybe 10 of them but the pace was too quick for me so I just let them go. I was in a gap between the leaders and the following pack so I pretty much had the trail to myself. Very soon the trail was up and down, through mud, over rocks, pretty much exactly what I'd signed up for.
Only 99.7 miles to go
The coast line was  absolutely stunning I just wanted to stop and take pictures. It really was picture postcard stuff, what a joy to be out there. I arrived in Cadgwith and the first supporters. No need for a stop, I just wanted to press on and cover as much ground as possible before darkness. The first unofficial check point was at Lizard point about 10 miles in. I couldn't believe how many people were out, the support was fantastic. I almost felt guilty running straight through but time management was all important.
The terrain was relentless and the decision to wear my Hokas was still up in the air, what I gained in cushioning I certainly lost in grip and stability. So much so that soon after Lizard I was bumbling along and turned my ankle right over, I sprung back it felt like my foot had been run over! Always nice. I dropped into Mullion cove and grabbed some water off a random guy. I was quite warm and the tailwind in my bottles accentuated my thirst. I climbed the hill out the cove and found my crew (wife). No hard and fast meeting places had been set with my crew as we were going to wing it and see how I was feeling on the day. I fully restocked on gels and chews, I was a few hours in and had been necking my prescribed 200 cals an hour. It's an amount through trial and error I've worked out I need so I don't bonk. Easy to do early on but it gets tougher as the race goes on. I still have a rough patch at 18 mile ish but its just trying to manage that. I was moving well around 20 mile but already felt tired, all variants of terrain were energy sapping this was going to be a real test.
Still looking fresh
I was carrying my Etrex gps but still really had to have my wits about me, it is so easy to go off course. There are so many unsigned turns and splits in the path that getting lost would be a distinct possibility for anyone without a GPS. The path was easy to lose as I ran alongside the Porthleven sands it lead to a massive sand bar so a bit of beach running before picking the path on the other side. I jogged into Porthleven and the first official checkpoint. My plan was not to enter any checkpoints, they were all indoors and I really didn't want to get too hot. I find it takes forever to get a comfortable body temperature, I'd rather stay outside to maintain it. Otherwise it's wasted time keep changing layers. Also it's a good opportunity to leap frog a few other runners. So I had a quick cup of soup, a bottle change and I was off again. It was only a jog and progress wasn't fast but the 4kg pack was heavy so a jog it was.
The sun was descending fast and the light was fading fast. It wouldn't be long before the head torch would be out. I can't remember the name of it but I dropped down onto a tiny pebble beach, this really didn't seem right? I could see some sort of steps leading up the rocks on the other side so this must be the way. Only thing is you have to dodge the tide, so the waves crash into the rocks then leg it across before the next lot came crashing in. I climbed out of the cove on the other side and carried on my way. This was certainly turning into a diverse race. I'd managed to get my feet wet in the previous miles, I suffer badly if I get wet feet. They become macerated which in turn becomes eye wateringly painful. I was just getting the first signs of maceration which manifests itself as a needling pain in the balls of my feet. So I was relieved at the end of Praa Sands to see my crew again. I'd given my feet a light slather of Gurney Goo at the start but it's not water repellent enough. So I tried something new to me which was to cover my feet in talc and change to dry socks. Seems to work a treat. While I was there I loaded my pack with calories, ate some rice pudding and had a nice cup of tea.
As I left Sydney Cove my thoughts turned to how long a night was ahead. By my reckoning it would be 14hours of darkness. The trail is certainly unrelenting. My right hip, right ITB and right shin were all very sore, some of which could be attributed to my Hokas not giving me a solid base. I was certainly in pain I think the shoes combined with the terrain were causing me grief.
Darkness fell just before Marizion and after some pretty tough trail I hit the tarmac section, this was actually a relief. My crew was waiting again just up the road with a coffee, I downed it and ran straight onto Penzance. I'd started coughing as the cold air had set in. No major drama, I was just feeling a bit chesty. I stopped at the CP in Penzance and was ushered in, I really didn't want to go in but rolled with it. The soup at the previous CP had been excellent so I stood and ordered some from here. Tailwind Mick brought over some mushroom soup for me, I took a sip and did an internal gag, it was bloody awful!!  No disrespect to the chef but I was retching and nearly puked it straight up.
I'm not sure why, but I downed it and vacated the pub, I was in and out of this CP within a few minutes. As I jogged up the road my stomach gurgled as the mud like soup did its rounds. That soup will scar me for life!
The other side of Newlyn my crew was waiting with an omelette from the chippy, a fucking mushroom omelette! I took a couple of big mouthfuls but the mushrooms turned my stomach again. No more!!
It was a relief to join the trail again after Mousehole. There was some good running to be had and with the stunning moon I kept switching my light off to run by the moonlight. Had the trail been less rough I would of run by moonlight alone. I was stopping quite often now to cough, big chesty coughing fits. In and out of little coves the hills were not stopping anytime soon. As soon as I rounded another headland that would lead to another cove, this beast was living up to it's name. My right knee was really grumbling now and was starting to bug me. As I went to jump across some rocks my footing slipped and I went crashing down smashing me knee. The blood ran down my shin from my knee but strangely as I tried to jog off the pain of the freshly cut skin it had taken my mind off of the ITB pain. I'd take that, good compromise.
I jogged into Lands End about 1am. 13 hours in and roughly 55miles were covered. My crew was there waiting with and knew I wouldn't be going inside the CP so had vegetable chilli and rice ready alongside a cup of tea. We stood at back of car and chatted whilst I ate, my crew needed some rest so I loaded right up with gels in my pack, put an extra layer on, talced my feet and changed my socks. All in all I was done in about 10minutes. I'd prepared mentally for the tough night ahead. It was 1am, roughly 25miles to St Ives, I should be there by daybreak. Time to crack on. How hard could it be?
My chest was now really playing up I was coughing up solid lumps and my breathing was labouring a bit. I had changed my batteries on my headlamp to lithiums so hopefully they would see me through the night. The coast here is littered with mineshafts and gorse. So if anyone should decide to cut across they would either get shredded or eaten by a mineshaft. Stick to the paths! The going up to Pendeen was okay, tough but manageable. I don't remember running too much, every time I got a few strides together it was broken by some sort of obstacle. I bumped into a few Arc Angels en route to Pendeen and topped up on Coke and water. The coughing was now full on and I'd developed a pain right through my leg. I convinced myself that all the uneven terrain had broke my leg. I was at a bit of a low, energy levels had remained good so far but the terrain was taking it's toll. The next 13miles was some of the most brutal I have experienced. Hills, rocks, mud and near impossible to follow trails. At some point on this section 2 runners came from behind. They weren't hanging about. "Don't mind us we're not in the race, we are delivering a banana." then every 100metres or so I'd catch them up with then frantically checking their map. The path was so hard to follow I was grateful for my GPS. We switched places and I put the banana deliverers on track a few times. Until we dropped into a cove one more time, they decided not to follow me anymore. I never saw them again and am still questioning whether it had actually happened??

Leaving the Dunes
This section broke me. The first morning light arrived and the last of the night was behind me. It was a massive relief, so was hitting the stepping stones outside St Ives because I knew I only had a bout a mile till I hit town. It must of been 10am as I stumbled into St Ives totally shattered. My leg was killing me and I was wheezing like a chain smoker. The coughing fits were painful now. I was broken.
I hobbled off the trail and my crew was waiting with tea, porridge and fresh supplies. I couldn't believe what I'd just been through. Another sock change and fresh layer of talc. Just those few minutes with a bit of hot food and pampered feet were enough to re-motivate me. I was still convinced my leg was broke so I kind of expected I'd be power walking the last 20 miles but I'd come this far backing out wasn't an option. Time to push on. I still hadn't really bonked but had some real fatigue issues going on. Yes the terrain was tough but my shortness of breath really wasn't helping. I'd come into this event wanting to go sub 30 because that seemed a pretty good target but deep down I knew I was capable of 24 hours. 24 was certainly gone now but I still had 8 hours to do the last 20ish miles for sub 30 so that was my motivation now.
I marched into town and went the long way round missing the obvious cut through, soon enough though I arrived at the CP and was met by Fergy who kindly offered to lead me inside. I declined explaining that if I was going to have to march it in I'd better get going. It was also a good opportunity to get a head start on the other competitors who were able to run! I left town and was soon faced with an estuary which we had to go round. This was very counter intuitive and despite my gps and the sign posts leading the way I was convinced I was going the wrong way. After a couple of miles of head scratching I eventually came back on myself and was the other side of the estuary and about to embark ng on the Dunes of doom!

Thank God that's over
The pain had subsided in my leg by now which I think had a lot to do with the terrain being somewhat flatter. The coughing however was much worse and I was hacking up solid lumps, I really thought parts of my windpipe were coming up. Yes I am a hypochondriac. As I entered the sands I saw a big black cloud heading our way and decided it was rain so started to sort my waterproof coat out. I seemed to take forever to get the coat on and get comfy. As I zipped it up the heavens opened, nothing too severe but there was some hail and wind in the mix. The dunes went on for some time and I was grateful this part of the course was marked. There was lots of different paths and I can imagine without the markers runners would be all over the place. As I left the dunes I was greeted by my crew once more. More tea, more porridge certainly enough to raise my spirits anyway. I was probably in 5th place right here with about 9miles to go but I could do nothing to hold this position and was aware of at least three runners right behind me. I picked up a walking pole from my crew to help with my failing right leg and plodded forward.
Rounding Godrevy point the coast was typically Cornish and rugged again. The path wasn't too bad and I was able to switch from power walking to jogging to shuffling but mainly shuffling. Over the this section the following 3 runners became the followed as they eased past me. They looked so fresh and I felt so shit. I entered Portreath with a bit of newly found vigour  the thought of nearly finishing was spuring me on. I grabbed my other stick off my crew and headed up the hill out of the village, my vigour ebbed away and was quickly replaced with the fatigue, my breathing was really laboured and my quads were jelly. This was a battle. I hiked the steep path and rejoined the coastal path. I was passed again and again even on this short section. There was a couple of really steep descents and ascents and my quads were a wobbly mess but I was making the best of it. It occurred to me at this point that I hadn't spent any of the race with anyone else. From mile 1 I had been alone for the whole race. Apart from being passed and passing others it had been a very lonely event. I was now in 11th place and thinking back I probably entered the trailhead in about 11th place.

Not my best look
I rounded the final bend and could see the finish from the top of the hill, I broke into a jog, all the way down the hill round the cove and up to the finish. The relief was immense. I nearly cried as I ground to a halt. I was handed my gold buckle and had finished in 27hrs 44. With that I had a massive coughing fit and was ushered in for a check over by the medics. I felt incredibly silly with a blanket over my shoulders and a monitor on my finger, everyone else looked fine! I wasn't, I was busted, it ha certainly been an Arc of Attrition!
Nice bit of bling
Almost two weeks later and having had time to reflect. Physically I'm fine although the last of my chest infection is hanging in there. That race was a beast, an absolute monster. You really need to be on top of your game to do well. I do believe I could go 24hrs on that course but it just hadn't worked out on the day. That is probably enough of a draw to get me back again for another shot. Just need to make sure when I do toe the line again I'm in tip top shape. I had entered because I want to run tough races and I really got what I paid for. We were blessed with the weather though so I'm sure I won't be so lucky next time. I didn't really use the CPs but the level of support was fantastic, everyone from the RD down had been a credit to the Ultra running community. You guys were great.
Next up for me is Western States, after all these years of trying I'm finally getting my shot. Training starts early March and I will be in the shape of my life. There is a silver buckle with my name on it!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Spartathlon 2016

Our destination
My first attempt at this epic race in 2015 ended in failure, my build up and training had not been the best, my quads totally failed me on the day after a very short distance, the heat ruined me and I ended up a broken mess at 75 miles. That dnf knocked my confidence massively, I couldn't even speak about the race for a month afterwards. I was in the gym a week later working on my still sore quads, a regime I kept up for the whole year. I knew right away I needed to return, to restore my faith in my ability. I entered using a 20hr 100 miler as a qualifier luckily I got in, Spartathlon 2016 was on.
Team GB
My training coming up to this event was impeccable, I spent the whole year working on various things. Trialing kit, tarmac running and quad workouts were ongoing but I also had a specific training period of twelve weeks with a proper taper and heat acclimatization. Every aspect had been covered and by the end of September I was fitter than I'd ever been. My kit had been perfected, my drop bags calculated, every detail had been considered. I was ready.
I didn't sleep much on the night before the race, I had my eyes closed and let my brain rest. It felt like forever as I scrutinized every last detail of my race prep. I was going through the smallest things that given the enormity of the race shouldn't have even been in my head. This should be chill out time, not a chance my brain was doing over time. Before I knew it 4.50am came and my alarm was firing off in my ear. I donned my gear, ate my breakfast and headed for the start.
Probably the most exciting
start line in the world
The start was only a few hundred metres from my hotel and I arrived just before the wave of buses. I stood in the middle of the paved area directly in front of the Theatre of Herodes Atticus, My nerve endings tingled as I visualized the journey ahead. Runners were now streaming in and the place was buzzing. Cameras flashing, group hugs, everyone readying for the countdown. A rather muted megaphone was mumbling in the background and we could just pick out the countdown, we were off. We surged forward filtering down the cobbled pathway and onwards toward the city.
Eight and a half minute miles had been my default pace for months, we were a little fast to start with but I soon hit my pace. I felt so full of beans it felt sluggish almost too slow but it's pointless having a plan and not executing it. We ran through the city streets and all traffic had been halted while we passed through much to the drivers annoyance. I can't imagine London traffic being halted just before rush hour on a Friday morning just to let a load of runners through. As we left the city we hit the long steady first climb. Myself, Barry Miller and James Poole chatted away barely noticing the climb. I was however very conscious of running my own race and the pace was picking up slightly. James pulled away slightly and I had no problem in letting him go. I continued for a further mile or so with Barry along a rather unpleasant main road. I was moderately faster than my 8.30s and told Barry to pull away, he did and that was the last I saw of him.
Everyone settled into their respective paces and the passing seemed to stop. I reached CP 4 and my first drop bag I had eaten a pack of shot blocks up till this point. I  grabbed my bag containing more shot blocks, gu gel, high five gel and 500ml of Tailwind. I downed half the drink and half a mile later downed the other half. Immediately feeling bloated. The feeling passed but wasn't pleasant.
Soaking my sleeves at
the marathon point
I soon joined the coast road and the miles ticked by. The running was easy and I felt so strong. The sun was up but the heat hadn't hit me. Every aid station I dipped my arms in a bucket of water and the feeling through my arm cooling sleeves was great. They were working! I reached the marathon distance and my first crew stop. I felt great and was all smiles I decided five minutes wouldn't hurt here. I was 15 mins up on my plan and 3hrs 55 had passed but I wasn't stressing because I felt good. My right quad was showing the first signs of fatigue as it had at this point last year. I trusted my training and put it to the back of head. I got a massive slice of watermelon from my crew and stuffed it in my face, It was heaven. I loaded up with shot blocks and gels and moved off. I ran back to the main road and headed up the hill, I had felt rough here the previous year but not this year, I felt great. I drank my tailwind as I jogged up the busy road, my stomach wavered again and I felt bloated. Again it passed. I carried on jogging along passing through small villages on the coastal road. I was really enjoying myself although sometimes you turn a corner and can see half a mile of straight tarmac ahead a very common site in this race.
The heat was at its most angry during this section probably about 30 degrees but plenty hot enough. I really wasn't bothering me though the heat acclimatization had worked so had my idea of total body coverage. The only problem I was having was slightly burning cheeks, my face not my arse. The ice pocket on my hat was working a treat. There was enough fabric between my head and the ice so I didn't get brain freeze but still the cooling effect on my head was amazing and as the ice melted the water trickled down my back. The ice was lasting plenty long enough too. I was very conscious of not drinking too much fluid. I was having my 500ml of tailwind every couple of hours,at each aid station I was having one cup of coke and one of water whilst keeping my bottle topped up and just sipping it as and when needed.
I passed Terry Zengerink on this section. It was hard but I was sticking to my very strict game plan which involved not running with anyone else. I passed, said 'Hi' and carried on. My quads were quite sore and every 10 mile or so I was doing four squats to try and stay loose and it seems to work for me even though I get some funny looks. I was soon approaching the Corinth canal and the high bridge. I ran over keeping my eyes fixed forward, I bloody hate heights. On the other side I caught Martin Bacon and we ran up the busy road to the 51 mile checkpoint together, I broke my golden rule but I was happy to have a major stop coming up and was in a chatty mood.
Raring to go in the heat of the day.
Hat stuffed full of ice.
I reached the CP in around 7hrs 55min and slightly ahead of my time target but still I felt good and took it as a bonus so I decided on a good 10min stop. I ran straight in and my quads were sore so I got on the massage table. The guys did a fantastic job on my legs and I ate an ice cream supplied by my crew. All was good in my world and I moved over to a chair to get some calories in. The pasta wouldn't go down so I settled for my ice cream and coke. Martin was beckoning me to go with him but I was reminded of my race plan by my crew and told him to crack on. 5 minutes later I was on the road again. The previous year I had felt like death at this point this year I felt good, what a relief!
After the busy roads it was nice to run on some quieter roads for a while. My mind drifted as I jogged along, I had written some splits down but had no real plan for any more of the race. I was so wrapped up in getting the first 50 done that I hadn't put a lot of thought in to the next section. No dramas just keep going the way I am and everything would be fine. Crossing the magical 53 miles was great only 100 to go, yay!.  Around this time I bumped into Paul Beechey and James we all chatted and exchanged positions. James was having a rough time with his stomach as was I. It was no good the energy I was getting from my tailwind was great but I was being left with a dry mouth and a bloated stomach. I had just been putting up with it but I could no more so as I ran ahead of James I stuck my fingers down my throat and projectile vomited across the road barely breaking stride. I did so a further two times. The relief was amazing, right there and then I decided tailwind wasn't working and I'd be drinking no more during this race. I've been sick 4 times during ultras and three had been in that two minute period. I actually felt great but was well aware my hydration and nutrition for the race had just taken a major blow. I quickly forced a couple of Gu down with water and an Scap. Time to focus. Martin appeared again from an adjacent field he'd got stomach issues but his were from a different exit. As much as I didn't want to run with anyone Martin was exactly my pace so we ran 4 or 5 miles into Ancient Corinth.
As we entered the village there was a pack of dogs fighting in the main centre which was an unnerving distraction also my quads hurt and my butt was sore, ring of fire type thing. I chatted with Jacque (my wife/crew) and told her I was ditching the tailwind she in turn insisted that I didn't run with Martin. He is a lovely guy but I had a strict plan and if I was to complete this race I had to stick to my plan. Again I let him go ahead as I tried to find my sudocreme, I didn't though, all I found was Gurney Goo so I slapped that round the offending area. Soon after leaving the check point I realized that the Gurney Goo was having the opposite intended effect and I was on fire. It certainly took my mind off the pain in my legs.
That was a painful massage
I'd left my headtorch in my bag at CP29 this was too early and as I passed through I handed it to my crew it would be pointless carrying for another couple of hours. About this time I started feeling rough, I was 60 something mile in, my feeding plan had gone to pot and I was tired. Not good. I was getting paranoid of the cut offs even though I had a two hour buffer and I was slowing. I bumbled through the lanes to CP32 and collected my head torch I was trying to get the gels down but in hind sight I wasn't getting enough calories. I had puked everything up and not re energized I was paying for it now. This really was head down, arse up and get on with it. I passed CP33 without stopping, I dropped here last year and I was happy to pass through, pretty much half way. I jogged slowly into CP35 Ancient Nemea and decided to have another massage, the girl really kneeded my quads and was checking my reaction constantly I couldn't help feeling like she was checking if I was ok to continue. I got up shook off the pain in my legs and ran on.
I can't remember exactly where but it was about the 85 mile mark I told Jacque that she had better drive to Sparta and check in and get some sleep. Chris Mills who was crewing John Volanthen said he would take over and Jacque could meet me in the morning with some fresh kit. I grabbed some Red Bull off her, Sudocremed my butt and jogged my way into the warm night. I had picked up a long sleeve top but certainly didn't need it yet. I started moving up hill and this was actually the start of the mountain all be it 13 miles out. I was still struggling and John caught up to me, he certainly had a similar game plan and was not in a talking mood. We spoke for a matter of seconds before he ran off. This was a bit of a kick in the balls as I'd been so strong but now I felt so weak. I could see the mountains up ahead but couldn't work out what way we were heading, either way it was a long way up. I walked and ran as best I could at one point getting stopped by an official asking if I was ok. I smiled and said of course I am, I'm 100% fine. Inside I was broken though.
Not sure where this was taken
but one of my fave pics ever
We followed an age of dirt tracks and tarmac switchbacks heading for the mountain, all the time I was getting passed by other Brits and there was nothing I could do about it. I managed to remain constant though and some of the brits that passed me would be messing about at CPs where I would pass straight through so there was a lot of criss crossing. I reached the mountain base in about 20 hours so it was now 3am, my Red Bull hadn't been going down too well but I'd taken a couple of ProPlus which really took the edge off the mental tiredness. John was still in the mountain base as he'd had a 10 minute nap. I decided to have a seat and a cup of soup, a well earned break after all that climbing, John pressed on ahead. .
I put my jacket on and hiked on to the rough track up and over the mountain this bit made a nice change up from all that tarmac, the rocky switchbacks were more to my liking. I passed straight through the mountain top CP and started the decent the other side. I was expecting a treacherous downhill with life threatening drops on all sides. What I found was a scree type track that was level but steep. Not a real issue apart from the fact I was slipping, I had stiff legs and tarmac shoes on. Others were sprinting past but I just walked down the steep bits until I reached the runnable stuff.
The run into Nestani was very much a blur. I was dealing with the lack of sleep ok but energy levels were still low and I was dragging my feet but I was getting it done. I was getting increasingly paranoid of the cut offs even though I'd pretty much maintained a constant two hour buffer. Everything I'd read had told me that the cut offs get easier as the race gets into the second day also that if you cross the mountain it's done. Both statements were not ringing true with me and that was bugging me. I was expecting to gain time on the cut offs and that is most certainly not the norm. With these thoughts some serious doubt had entered my head about actually finishing. 50 miles to go, not gaining time, feeling knackered, being passed by so many Brits, I nearly cried at the thought of failing again. This was a real mental low. There is little rationale at this stage in a race I was pushing forward but belief had left me.
I couldn't stop smiling. John always looks like that. 
It was in Nestani that a minor miracle happened, an epiphany you might say. I was feeling like my race was almost dead and I asked Chris what my lead on the cut off was, expecting him to say 2 hours, he said 1hr 40. This was awful, the worst margin I'd had the whole race. I looked him in the eyes and thought to myself 'You don't think I'm going to finish!' for fuck sake I didn't even think I would finish. Right there and then I decided this was it, do or die! There was enough time I just needed to get the hell on with it. I got up out my chair and ran in fact I ran with conviction, like someone who wanted to finish. The first signs of light filled the sky, I was on a very flat section and it was bloody cold. I was glad I had my jacket and spare top, the misty morning felt just above freezing. It was around 6am and 23 hours in, 40 something miles to go. A perfect time to get some good miles under my belt. I felt energized by the light. I was actually running, I passed Stu Wilkie and asked if he was ok, he was fine but mentioned his tiredness, he didn't look fine but he was moving so that was a positive. I ran into CP55 and started drinking coke and water. "Hi Dill" came from behind the table. I couldn't compute or focus but after a few seconds I realized it was John Volanthen siting there drinking soup. John and I both failed the previous year and both vowed to come back stronger. If there was one other runner I wanted to finish it was John. He looked shit and like a man about to give up. I said come on, little point sitting here and started to run. This was Johns epiphany and he jumped up knowing he had to move on. He couldn't run, he was spent but he ran/walked keeping me in sight. Eventually he caught me and we discussed our realization that this could and would be done but we had to keep on. We passed Duncan Cornish and egged him on. We were on a mission.
I ran into CP57 it was 7.30 am and 115 miles in, 38 miles to go in 11 and half hours. Jacque had arrived with my day gear,  I ditched my head torch and coat. She complemented me on how well I was doing but I wasn't feeling fluffy. No I said now's the time to knuckle down and get this done. John left but I had a pot of porridge which I watered down to a drink and promptly downed. I soon caught John. About a mile up the road the call of nature came on all of a sudden and I had to sacrifice a GB buff because I'd used my toilet roll elsewhere. A little gift for the farmer.
Carl and I at the finish
After the long flat lanes we joined a main carriageway and the start of a long uphill section. The road was like a British A road and the cars were not hanging about. I started to have another rough patch and I really had to get my head down and just follow John, if he walked I walked if he ran, I ran. It was tough going. He would pull away then I would catch him up and repeat although we were determined to run our own races we bounced off each other very well. We were just going up and up and I was noticing how painful my feet were. Blisters had just decided to rear their heads and the bottom of my left foot was blistered and all between my toes on the right side was heavily blistered. This pain got horrendously bad very quickly and I decided I would have to stop to burst them. I stopped and flipped off my shoe but I couldn't bend down to sort them out. It took all my effort to get my shoe back on. I jogged into CP65 with about 23 miles to go decided unless I sorted my feet I was going to struggle to get this done. The officials would have no problems pulling me out had they known how troubled I was so I smiled, grabbed and drink and went to hide behind some cars. I summoned Jacque to sort my feet. Russ Tullett was there too and volunteered his services. They removed my shoes and socks and Russ quickly burst the massive blister between my toes which fired its contents into the air and did so for a good 10 seconds. The blister on my left foot had ripped and was raw, Russ suggested covering the raw flesh with a Compeed. We all knew this was a big no no, but it was an emergency repair. He glued it on with some Tincture of Benzoin and I was good to go. John had gone way ahead but I did what I'd done the whole race and clawed him back. The pain in my feet wasn't quite as mind bending just manageable so jogging was ok.
 We eventually crested the hill and I bumped into some Brit supporters at a CP who explained that it was down hill from here and roughly thirteen miles to go. I was pulling away from John slightly and feeling good so I decided to just roll with it and try and run it in. It was 1.45pm I had about 12 miles to go and 5hrs 15 mins to do it. It was hot but the heat wasn't troubling me. As I continued down the road every car was honking their horns and Sparta soon came into view it was at that moment I knew I was going to do it. My lip quivered and a tear came to my eye it was almost done.
I had managed to jog right the way to the outskirts of town, I was shuffling but sort of running. A car swerved to a halt in front of me and a race official jumped out. 'Are you ok?' she asked. I was busted, in pain, incoherent, seizing legs but I smiled and enthusiastically said 'Of course I am!' You are not pulling me now I thought. I continued to jog along and bumped into Carl Howells I stopped briefly and spoke, as I went to run off my body said no, it was revolting, there would be no more running today.
Yes I am.
We walked and chatted there was only a couple of miles to go and I walked into the last CP and picked up my flag and team shirt. I was enjoying the walk in, everyone was cheering from their windows and spuring us on. We walked into the main street and I could see the flags at the end. This was the moment I'd waited 2 years for, I was lapping it up. The closer we got the louder the crowds got, all the Brit supporters were great and made us feel on top of the world. A Greek runner came up behind us a we let him go first to the statue. We followed him and took turns in kissing the foot. I thought I would cry at this point but I just felt relieved. Massive relief. I drank the river water from the bowl and stood for our photos. I'd actually dreamt of this moment and it was gone in a flash. I was so happy. 33hrs 57minutes 35 seconds. As 90% of the field will tell you though, it isn't about the time.
I was ushered to the medical area and had my blisters drained and drank an ice cold water. At that moment I seized up totally and couldn't get out the chair. After much negotiation I managed to get a wheel chair and was pushed over to the British supporters by a rather drunk Rob Pinnington. As soon as I was there I felt ill and started shaking uncontrollably. I so wanted to sit with the guys and celebrate but I couldn't, I needed to lie down. I got helped to my hotel by John Steele and eventually reached my bed. I crashed out. In pain but happy.
Me and the foot!
Would I do it again? Firstly Spartathlon is really hard if anyone tells you otherwise don't let it fool you.  I trained for a year with this race in mind and had spent most of the previous year thinking about my first attempt. So two years of my running life dedicated to this finish. Apart from a few minor details my race went exactly to plan and I finished well within the 36 hour limit. James Ellis asked me at the end what I attributed my finish to this time. I replied 'My heat acclimatization and my kit' but actually it was so much more than that. It was the weeks and weeks of training six days a week mostly on tarmac, back to back long runs, trying loads of different kit and nutrition strategies, 15 consecutive days of saunas pre race, planning every minute detail and every situation. It wasn't luck it was bloody hard work. Part of me wants it again but what would I achieve? Can I beat that time? Can I recreate that perfect race? What if I go back a third time and fail? Then surely I'd need to go back a fourth time. Thing is this race gets hold of you, I'm writing this thinking about the whole experience and what a great thing it was. So would I do it again?